By Brandon Martin
Visitors to the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) caught a glimpse into the past during the Jan. 25 Ice Age Festival.
Patrons were treated to a mammoth mummy, fossils and live flintknapping as they toured through the museum halls.
Flintknapping, or the process of chipping away material from high silica stones to make sharp projectile points or tools, was the first attraction that visitors saw when they entered the museum. Pete Adkins explained his craft while showing the crowd the tedious process of making stone weapons like arrowheads.
He said “you don’t see many people doing it like this anymore.” As he formed the jagged edges of the arrowhead, Adkins said “you want one to do” referencing the size and sharpness of the stone.
Also on display was the mummy mammoth Dima, which Administrator of Science for VMNH Ben Williams said was discovered in Siberia in 1977.
“Dima is an exciting display for the museum,” he said. “It had been frozen in the ice, perfectly preserved for 40,000 years. We have an extremely life-like cast of that mummy.”
The calf was found in surprisingly good condition, according to Williams. “The trunk, skin and organs were still intact after tens of thousands of years.”
Another highlight of the museum was the fossil collection from Madagascar. Williams said that “generally when we think about the Ice Age, we don’t think about what would be happening in a place like Madagascar. A lot of these Giant Lemurs and things like that, we don’t have around anymore but were really interesting specimens in the Ice Age,” he added.
Williams credited the Duke Lemur Center for the rental, which is one of the ways that the museum is able to host their festivals.
“We have other universities and museums that partner with us,” he said. “Some things, like Dima, we get as rentals for special events like this. Generally, we have a lot of different connections in the museum world that help us out.”
The event also had activities for younger children that were designed to promote the theme of the festival.
Christy Deatherage, Education Manager for VMNH, worked to spread the theme throughout the day with the museum’s Cave Art Creations.
“We have various animals that were alive during the Ice Age that they can color,” she said.
“The room has been turned into a cave. They can also free-hand their artwork. ”
Deatherage used her personal favorite exhibit, Dima, to “incorporate that in the art down here.”
She also explained the importance of hands-on activities for promoting learning.
“We try to tie in the theme with hands-on activities or games that the younger audiences can participate in. We have a pin-the-tusk on the mammoth game. We have furs and teeth of animals that were around during the Ice Age that they can feel.”
The Ice Age Festival is one of four festivals that the museum hosts throughout the year, according to Williams. They also have the Reptile Festival in June, the Dinosaur Festival in July and the “ever-popular Dragon festival happens in October.”
“That one is typically very popular and it brings in a different clientele. It brings in folks that might not have come out to the museum before. It has those neat popular culture tie-ins,” Williams added.
“One of the good things with a festival this size is that you can see everything. It’s never so packed that people are on top of one another and you can’t get to a certain thing you want to see. If someone wants to come up here for a few hours, they can see all they want.”
Not only does the museum host four large festivals, but they also plan smaller events throughout the year, according to Williams.
“We have our second Thursdays science talks, our Grapes and Grains fundraiser,” he said. “There’s always something going on here.”